The Christmas tree in Westminster Cathedral was bare yesterday, save for a solitary star at its top. As small groups of visitors wandered around the side chapels, dozens of friends and relatives of Jacintha Saldanha walked through the centre of the nave to take their place in the front rows.
They had come to the service of thanksgiving for the life of the 46-year-old nurse at the King Edward VII Hospital who was found dead after being duped by a prank call from two Australian radio DJs while the Duchess of Cambridge was being treated at the hospital.
Before a white bouquet near the altar, they remembered and prayed in silence until the choir rose to signal the arrival of Ms Saldanha's husband, Benedict Barboza, and their son Junal and daughter Lisha. They were shown to their seats by Canon Christopher Tuckwell, and closely followed by Keith Vaz, the Labour MP who has supported the family their bereavement.
Father Alexander Master presided over the service, held for "the repose of the soul of Jacintha and her grieving family". Referring to the first reading, from the Book of Ecclesiastes, he said: "'Blessed, those who will see you, and those who have fallen asleep in love; for we too shall certainly have life.' These words may be said of Jacintha too. May all those who mourn her find some comfort in peace."
After the service, the family paid emotional tributes to "a kind-hearted, generous woman". Fighting back tears, Mr Barboza said: "My wife, you were the light in my darkness, who always showed me the way forward... you always stood by me in times of hardship and happiness. I feel a part of me has been ripped out.
"Without your beautiful smile and sparkling personality, the house is an empty place to live. Nineteen years of togetherness with a strong bond of affection and understanding will be cherished for ever in my life. Your loss is a very painful one and nobody can take that place in my life ever again. I love you and miss you for ever."
Junal, 16, said: "Our mother, kind hearted, generous and a well-respected woman in both of our lives. You were the core of the family who kept us together. In times of difficulty you showed us the way forward to happiness and success.
"Your priority for us was a good education and a bright future. You taught us right from wrong, which we appreciate. You worked tirelessly to give us everything that we have today. When we achieved good grades and merit, your pat on our backs encouraged us more."
Lisha, 14, ended the family tributes, saying: "We will miss your laughter, the loving memories and the times we had together. The house is an empty dwelling without your presence. We are shattered and there's an unfillable void in our lives.
"We love you Mum, sleep in peace and watch over us till we meet again in Heaven. We will always love you and keep you close to our heart."
Moments earlier, as Fr Master began the concluding rite, light burst in from windows behind the altar and briefly lit up the star as people turned to leave. Ms Saldanha will be buried in Karnataka, India, tomorrow.
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